All Trekked Out - A Tale of Two Treks

Trip Start Oct 01, 2010
Trip End Mar 31, 2011

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Where I stayed
Southern Comfort, Sol Plaza Inn Hotel, Apu Wasi

Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Sunday, October 17, 2010

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..'

The last nine days have seemed like a bootcamp in paradise. For some reason I keep putting forward the idea to go trekking. I was the one who when we were planning our original itinerary decided that we had to do the Inca Trail, as we considered our route through Peru it was again me who suggested that we should trek the Colca Canyon. Why? I'm not normally a climb a mountain in my spare time type of girl, but, that is the point of travelling is to do things out of the ordinary, to take you out of your comfort zone and ultimately to see some of the most beautiful sights in the world.

Trek One - Colca Canyon
 We signed up for a three day expedition/trek with Colca Trek, a tour operator highly recommended by Lonely Planet for being eco-tourism friendly. Like all socially conscious ventures, it comes with a high price. We started Day One aboard a bus with our chirpy tour guide Olivia and the rest of our group, including an English guy called Kerry as a by his Irish parents - he has to sign off emails saying he is man!  Day One was spent driving to the Colca Canyon region, 'appreciating' local churches and 'making' photos at the bequest of Olivia. We visited some interesting rock formations and stopped at Cruz del Cure, named after a priest who drove over the edge on the treacherous  mountain roads. An hour long walk had many of us struggling with the high altitude we had reached, we were now at about 4800 metres above sea level but we reached our destination of Cruz del Condor where we spotted a number of condors. At times I felt I was like a middle aged Japanese tourist snapping everything in sight.
After staying in the canyon town of Cabanaconde, we began our precarious trek down the canyon at eight in the morning. By that time the sun was high in the sky and our three hour trek downhill at times was difficult. But what a paradise awaited us, that is the only way to describe it. At the base of the canyon, which is twice the height of the Grand Canyon, are a number of basic bungalows and lodges, each with it's own natural rock pool. Due to us being 'eco-sensitive' we were staying in tents. The cool water was blissful to all of our weary limbs - though we couldn't really complain, we didn't have to carry our own bags, we had mules which brought all our supplies up and down.
After an early dinner and a very early bedtime (8pm), we were up at 4am to begin our trek back up the canyon at sunrise - before the heat of the day made it too difficult. As always with travelling 'Delhi Bellies' are to be expected and unfortunately this was the day for me to fall of foul of a dodgy tummy. I found walking back up torturous at times, so much so a lady on a mule asked me did I want a lift to the top but being as stubborn as a mule (sorry!) I refused and kept on walking and made it in the average time of three hours.
My legs have never been so tight and muscles I didn't know existed ached and throbbed. This did not bode well for the Inca Trail which was only two days away. The fear had most certainly set in.
After a quick stop-over in Puno we reached Cusco and thus began;

Trek Two - The Inca Trail
Despite knowing that numerous friends had already done the Inca Trail I approached it with absolute trepidation after the Colca Canyon, especially as we had to carry our own bags, sleeping bags and sleeping mats. Our guide, Raul's, words of advise stayed with me as we set off from KM82, POSITIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE. I was pleasantly surprised by Day One, it was less taxing than I expected, we trekked about 8km, up and down the Incan way. I was even more pleasantly surprised by the food which was considerably better than Colca Canyon.Once again we had an early bed time of 8pm - I'm calling us the New Puritans, bed early, up early, no alcohol, our only vices are high calorie sweets and drinks to combat the altitude and for energy. 
Day Two was always the big worry, everybody we had spoken to had told us that is the hardest day of the Inca Trail. Eleven KM, four hours walking up hill, most of which is uneven stone steps and two hours downhill on the same uneven steps. While it was extremely physically tough, you are surrounded by a cacophony of puffs and pants as you make your way up the hill - it wasn't as bad as I expected, climbing the sand dunes was a far worse experience for me. I have to give a big thanks to the vocal encouragement of Florence and the Machine, The Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna and Cheryl Cole  - my mentality was if Cheryl Cole can climb Kilimanjaro, I can survive Day Two of the Inca Trail.  
Day Three is meant to be nice and easy but it ain't - Eimear and I found it the most mentally challenging, you spend most of the time walking by yourself or in small groups not talking. It is the longest day, 13KM of undulating Incan walk ways, around eight hours of walking. I knew towards the end I was only about 45 minutes away from the campsite, but it wasn't in sight and I felt I was caught in a maze that I would never get out of. It was the most demoralising point of the whole trail. It turns out that all I need to pick me back up is a hot shower and a diet coke. After not showering for three days it was the most luxurious experience you could imagine.
Slight disaster broke out on the evening of Day Three when the rain started, it pounded down, relentlessly, it was then I took to praying to PachaMama, the Incan god of Mother Earth, obviously my prayers worked because by the time we had to get up in our rain soaked tent at 3.30am the rain had faded to slight drizzle. 
Day Four, is a scramble to the sun gate, you have to queue at the barrier of Machu Picchu to be one of the first groups let through at 5.30am when the gates open. You then practically run the 6km to the sun gate to hopefully see the sun rise over the fabled Incan city.Due to our cloudy weather conditions we did not see the sunlight flood over the city but there was a real sense of achievement as we had our first glimpses of the Peruvian national treasure.
We spent the morning touring the archeological site, though I have to admit tiredness had really caught up with me by this stage and I think that it hindered by ability to properly appreciate the marvel that is Machu Picchu.
Looking back over the last number of days and the two treks I am extremely proud of what we did, yes loads of people do it, but it is definitely challenging and  undoubtedly not for the faint hearted. I can now lie in bed looking forward to my massage without any twinges of guilt that I should be off doing something adventurous...two treks in nine days is certainly enough for me!!!!

Something I haven't mentioned are the porters. These are the local men who carry 25kg worth of tents, food, tables, chairs, rubbish, people's rucksacks etc up the mountain. They practically run, skip and jump along the paths, they are paid horrendously low wages and have no job security, being picked by the cook on Day One, they sleep in basic tents with no ground sheets. The tips they receive from tour groups are a precious life line to them and  makes you feel like the wealthy, western tourist taking advantage of local economies. It is a weird situation that  causes a lot of discomfort amongst groups. It highlights the social injustices that are ever present around the world.

PS I am changing my name to Clarita - there is just no point calling myself Clara in Latin America because everybody just diminutises it anyway! And on a final note, all the Peruvians ask where I managed to get myself a Spanish accent, so don't worry, I won't be coming back with a sweetened Lat Am accent!

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